Omicron fears extinguish transport demand during year’s biggest holiday

By Anh Tu, Dat Nguyen   January 8, 2022 | 04:59 pm PT
Omicron fears extinguish transport demand during year’s biggest holiday
Passengers are seen at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, December 11, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
Tet airfares have dropped to a three-year low and bus stations are deserted as travel demand remains lukewarm due to concerns about the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

A two-way ticket between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi on January 28, the last day before the nine-day holiday starts, costs VND2.5 million ($110) on budget airline Vietjet and VND2.8 million on Vietnam Airlines.

This represents a 20-25 percent drop from last year.

There have been times before the pandemic began when the fares on one of the world’s busiest routes went up to VND4-5 million.

Viet Anh, 28, of HCMC, said he was surprised to find the fare from HCMC to Hanoi significantly down from last year.

"I spent nearly VND6 million for a return ticket in 2019 and VND5 million last year."

Phuong Anh, who plans to travel from Hanoi to the central province of Thua Thien Hue, only had to pay around VND800,000 for a return ticket, 38 percent less than last year.

Ticket agents said people are waiting for the last minute to book this year to see how local authorities respond to the pandemic.

"Prices on some routes have dropped because airlines increased the number of flights," Quang Thanh, owner of a travel agency in Hanoi, said.

But overall, airlines have cut the number of seats for Tet (Lunar New Year) this year by 20-25 percent to 2.7 million.

Other means of transport are also seeing low demand.

Hanoi Railways has only sold around 9,400 tickets this year, down 81 percent from a year ago.

Vietnam Railways had sold 8.1 percent of its tickets for the HCMC–Hanoi route as of January 4, and 3.8 percent on Hanoi-HCMC seats.

Giap Bat, a major bus station in Hanoi, is only getting around 700 passengers a day, a 90 percent drop.

Some buses leave with two or three passengers, the station director, Nguyen Tat Thanh, said.

"Bus companies were selling tickets for a few days but then stopped because of low demand".

Some have switched to transporting goods to survive, while the station has laid off two thirds of its staff since it was unable to pay them, he added.

Traditionally during Tet, the country’s biggest and most important celebration, Vietnamese travel in their millions to their hometowns – with many living abroad too making their way back – to be with their families.

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